When did you first promote content on the Internet? Some of us have been doing it long enough to—GASP—remember when Facebook post CTRs were 10%. Yes, folks, that meant a full 15% of all your Facebook page likes (back then we called them “fans”) would click a link you posted, and then we web marketers would complain that it was only half the CTR of email. Today 1.5% is considered a miracle. And 0.15% is still a multiple of the median engagement rate (nevermind CTR).
Why did Big Tech kill the click? To feed their relentless hunger for higher stock prices, of course.
For Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Instagram, Reddit, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, and the rest, users clicking links to the open web meant losing precious ad dollars and tracking data to a lowly content creator. As they discovered this group would devour each other for the scraps the platforms allowed them, they leaned into algorithmic feeds and platform protocols that made earning traffic like squeezing blood from a stone.
Yet, many modern marketers continue to use these platforms in much the same way they did a decade ago—publishing content and then distributing it directly with links or the closest allowed alternative (“link in bio!” “link in comments!”). Here at SparkToro, we think there’s a better way: Zero-Click Marketing.
Howdy SparkToro fans, and welcome to another edition of 5-Minute Whiteboard. This week, we’re talking about an extremely important topic. What I think is the of marketing—zero click marketing. This was coined by my colleague, Amanda Natividad.
We only have five minutes, so let’s get started. From 2001-2016 you could essentially follow this ABC roadmap for content distribution and do quite well with all forms digital marketing. You would publish content, right? Like a blog post.
You could distribute it across social media, forums, wherever you wanted. Right? In the early days sites like Digg and Reddit and forums, then LinkedIn, of course, then Twitter came around, and Facebook and all of these other ones. And you could get traffic and content to your blog post (or whatever content you made) from these networks, right, from all the social places, and then turn them into email newsletter subscribers or buyers.
A lot of people still today in 2023 practice this, but it doesn’t work anymore. Why doesn’t it work? Because sometime in the, around 2010-2015, the large social networks: Facebook and Twitter, especially, started realizing, hang on, why are we driving traffic to your site when we could keep that all for ourselves and get more money.
We could we could grow our advertising revenue. We could do all sorts of things. Why are we sending traffic to kitten sites we could just put kittens on our platforms and earn money there. And so Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, LinkedIn, all these algorithms bias against links.
If you’ve noticed over the last 5-10 years, your links are performing way worse. Your posts with links perform way worse. That’s because they intentionally bias those algorithms to prevent clicks to make content that contains clicks do worse than content that doesn’t contain it because they want to keep you on their site.
TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, either hide links by default or they don’t let them anywhere or they only allow them in bios. So you have to click on the profile. Right? This is what the whole link in bio thing.
Google. Google Search: two thirds of all searches end without a click. Right? People get their answer right in the search results.
And so for modern marketers, what are we supposed to do? How do we handle this? Well, yes, it sucks. Yes, we need a new solution, and that solution is what Amanda calls “Zero-Click Marketing.”
It works like this. You publish either on your site, your email newsletter, or directly on the platform. You do what Facebook and Twitter and Reddit and LinkedIn and all of them want you to do, which is essentially you take that kitten content and instead of publishing on your site, you publish it on theirs. And then you promote without links.
You essentially say, hey, here’s why kittens are great, right? And in the comment, you might say, there’s more in my weekly kitten newsletter! And now people can know, oh, if I follow Rand, I’ll get all that great kitten cotton. (Well, I’m actually allergic to cats. So you won’t find it from me.)
But this whole on-platform action, right? The idea behind it is to optimize for visibility and engagement, not just for clicks. Yes. You can do the LinkedIn thing where you put the link in the first comment or you have someone else comment and leave that first link.
Sure. Great it works fine. You can do the same thing on, a platform like Twitter where if a post does well on Twitter (or whatever Elon is calling Twitter right now), you you can put that as the second post and it can do okay there. Obviously, that that platform’s declining.
The only place where this doesn’t work, by the way, is Mastodon and Google Discover — those are the only places that don’t bias against links that are big platforms with millions users (~10M for Mastodon and ~800M for Discover).
And then you rely on interested folks from Facebook, from LinkedIn, from Twitter, from threads, from Instagram, from all of these places to say, wow, that content was great. I wanna follow that person. I wanna engage with them.
I’m gonna go seek out the information they told me about. You know, Rand said something interesting about SparkToro on LinkedIn in a video. There’s no link, but I’m gonna go search Google for SparkToro or I’m gonna go directly to Sparkto.com and go check it out and try it for myself. That’s how zero click marketing works.
There’s a whole lot of nuance and a bunch of tactics that we’ll talk about in the future, but this is the future of marketing. It’s zero click because it has to be.